12/28/2004 1:00AM

Diligent Prospect not at peak

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Diligent Prospect scored a maiden win at Hollywood Park last May in the style of a future stakes winner. His connections are still waiting to find out if he will be that good.

was sidelined with sore shins through the summer and fall and returns from a seven-month layoff on Thursday in a $48,000 optional claimer for 2-year-olds over seven furlongs at Santa Anita.

The race has drawn a field of six, including , who won the Barretts Juvenile Stakes at Fairplex Park in September, and Cadillac Cruiser, the winner of a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar in September.

Diligent Prospect defeated maidens by 3 1/2 lengths on May 30, running five furlongs in 56.29 seconds. Shortly after that race, he was taken out of training.

"We gave him 90 days off and that turns out to be five months before he was back to the track," trainer Doug O'Neill said.

O'Neill knew that Diligent Prospect was nearing a start when he watched the colt work five furlongs in company in 58.80 seconds on Dec. 11.

"He wasn't able to blow out a candle," O'Neill said. "That's when we thought he'd be ready" for a start during the first two weeks of the Santa Anita meeting.

"Our goal was to have him ready for the two-turn races for the start of the year," O'Neill said.

Diligent Prospect has speed and could be on the front.

"It doesn't look like the race has a ton of speed," O'Neill said. "He should be pretty fresh."

Diligent Prospect was purchased for $72,000 as a yearling and races for Royce Jaime and Ty Leatherman.

O'Neill warns that Diligent Prospect might need a start. He is preparing the colt for a start in a two-turn race in coming weeks.

"He won't be at his peak for this race," O'Neill said. "We're using this race as something to build on."

may lead early from post 6. Processor is making his first start for David and Holly Wilson and trainer Vladimir Cerin, having been claimed for $62,500 on Dec. 9 at Hollywood Park. Processor won by a neck that day, his second consecutive victory, by stalking a quick pace and taking the lead in the final furlong.

Processor previously raced for Bob and Beverly Lewis and trainer Bob Baffert. He was bought for $290,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Beat the Chalk also can lead early in this race, but he has been effective as a stalker.